I’m weak when you miss me
When you roll me on your tongue
When you whisper me your best moves
And I almost believe you
But you don’t know me at all
I spent days stupid
Nailed to your floor
And I spent nights pushed against you
Just trying to keep warm
But you don’t know me at all
--Matt Nathanson, “Weight of it All”
I still feel the need to pray sometimes.
Sometimes I even do.
The first couple of times this happened it was awkward. A first date, the first meeting in many years between old friends who parted on bad terms. Robbed of the practiced self-assurance of an arrogant surety of audience I hemmed and hawed, grew self-conscious in the knowledge that I was talking to myself as if I had an audience.
Eventually, though, I’d hit a rhythm. It’s in the beginnings of a ritual that we find comfort.
Dallas is beginning to feel normal to me. I’m building a mental map of the things I’ve seen in the city, the places I’ve been.
I point my Mazda down 114. Dallas is ahead, somehow closer and more accessible than Chicago ever really was.
The windows are rolled down, the moonroof rolled back. Even at 9 pm it’s still above ninety degrees according to the temperature display in my dashboard.
That’s a hard adjustment to make.
I learned something. As much as I love learning new things, as much as I love increasing my understanding of the world which I inhabit, there are some lessons that…well…
There are some times when ignorance really is bliss.
It’s in the moment of those lessons that I wish there were someone to whom I could pray, when I wish there was someone capable of fixing the unfixable, bringing back the past, picking up the pieces.
It’s where the idea of prayer becomes a comfort. I used to turn the lights off, turn on some appropriately spiritual music, sit on the floor, and talk to the ceiling about that immovable object that was creating such a grand distraction in my life.
Las Colinas is desolate at 9 o’clock on a week night. I’m sure it’s the sort of place that’s described as “A Great Place to Raise a Family” on some website designed to lure yuppies to the suburbs with the promise of schools that have enough money for air conditioning and microscopes. It’s not the sort of place that’s great to be 29 and single.
My Mazda picks up speed effortlessly. It’s smoother, faster, quicker than any other car I’ve ever had. After three months it’s my favorite car by a wide margin, better than the Concorde, better even than my beloved old Chevy Caprice.
I’ll be in Dallas in minutes. It’s not nearly the production that driving to Chicago was.
I think that the default antipathy to religion that’s experienced by so many who go through the process of leaving fundamentalist religion is necessary, healthy, even. The asphyxiatingly pious outfit of self-indulgent religion cannot be lightly cast off. They’re church clothes, Sunday best, designed to look good and proper at the expense of comfort and ease of movement.
It’s important to dance about for a bit unencumbered by the notion of what others might think. Sometimes that requires angrily batting away those who hold up the suit, tie, and finely polished shoes and suggest you try them on again. Sometimes it requires putting those clothes away in the dark corners of your closet, never to see the light of day.
But they go in the closet, never the dumpster. Something that was once such an important part of your life cannot be discarded, not completely. It can be ignored and left to gather dust, but that’s the farthest it goes.
I don’t really get a sense of entering Dallas. I’m in not-Dallas, then I’m in Dallas and that’s the end of the story.
Chicago, though. You enter Chicago. It’s most obvious on the Eisenhower, where the old Post Office stretches over the road, an open mouth swallowing speeding cars. One side is Chicago, the other is not Chicago. The lines drawn on the map don’t matter. I always passed under the Post Office with a sense of excitement and passed under it again with a sense of disappointment.
I have a mental map of Chicago. For the past six months it’s been populated with lists of places I can’t get to, things I can’t do, people I can’t see.
I suppose it’s good that I haven’t been back, haven’t realistically been able to consider going back. It’s not like my last semester at Western, when I’d hop in to my car every other weekend and drive back because…well…because hindsight was still off in the distance and it wasn’t a wasted effort just yet.
It’s good that I can’t go back. It’s forced me to get over my anger at leaving Chicago and begin to think about having to apply that unthinkable, four-letter word to this new place.
There’s nothing worse than being confronted with the truth behind a comforting lie.
There are those things we tell ourselves just to get through the day, through the week, come up with a reason to wake up tomorrow and slog through another day. Life is so often a series of small catastrophes that we need to ignore or pretend never happened until they somehow work themselves out. “Tomorrow will be better,” is the most comforting lie of all.
It’s the lie of hope.
In that moment when the comforting lie shatters, though, all that’s left is hopelessness. It’s at that point where it seems the best – the only – thing is prayer.
Another comforting lie.
Words pour out of my mouth.
It’s strange how something that was so close for so long managed to take on such a mythical status for me. Not so long ago I wanted to leave Chicago. I tried to figure out how to go to schools far away. I looked for jobs in other states.
I thought that if I could leave Chicago I’d be able to re-invent myself, leave the person I was behind.
As I learned to like me I came to love Chicago. I could never stay, though. It swallowed me, then spit me back out to the suburbs. The only thing worse than wanting to go is not being able to stay.
I don’t enter Dallas. I’m not in Dallas, then – suddenly – I am.
My words bounce off the ceiling, return to my ears.
I am reminded.
I chose this. I chose the life I lead. I decided.
I told myself the comforting lie because I wanted to believe I could go back. I told myself the comforting lie because I wanted to believe that things could change, that things would change. I told myself the comforting lie because it was easier than the truth.
The truth was that there could be no change.
The only options were to leave or…or what?
I pass through Dallas, turn back towards my apartment.
It’s a drive I never could have taken in Chicago. It’s a drive I never would have taken in Chicago. Whenever I just wanted to drive I invariably headed west.
My life was never in Chicago. It was a place I visited, a place I worshipped.
It was a place that always sent me away at the end of the night.
The comforting lie disappears. In its stead sits something better.
Prayer is supposed to change the one who prays. It’s supposed to aline the pray-er with the mind of god, suppress worldly desires for ethereal purpose.
It was once the only way I honestly admitted the things that truly bugged me, the things I wished I was, the things I wanted to be no longer, to that all-powerful audience of one who knew it all, anyway. There was no use in lying.
Maybe there’s still a place for prayer. It’s not about admitting to god.
It’s about admitting to me.
There’s no space for the comforting lie between my ceiling and my ears.
It’s strange how quickly sleep arrives when the tension is gone.